Go Away Little Girl

It’s really strange to look back at old music–from really not that long ago–and see how actually pedophilic and disturbing the lyrics to some of these songs actually are. Today’s title, for example, is about a guy being tempted by a girl who’s much too young for him–but while he at least recognizes this, the song itself makes it sound like she is the seductive temptress, which again: weird and uncomfortable. Granted, the version I am most familiar with is Donny Osmond’s, and he was prepubescent when he recorded it, so there is that. But imagine how creepy it would sound if sung by someone in their twenties? Thirties?

I am sure you get the point.

Yesterday wasn’t one of my better days, frankly. I woke up at five in the morning and of course, was wide awake (fortunately, Scooter decided that was the time to start howling for food and water, so it wasn’t a total disaster; he would have woken me up then anyway so hurray for already being awake, at least). But I felt very–not tired, but also not entirely checked into my day, if that makes any kind of sense? It’s a weird feeling, and not one I am particularly fond of, either–but what can you do? Try to function as best you can, is the only answer–along with hoping that tomorrow will be better. It’s sort of the like the post-novel writing malaise I often experience when I’ve turned a book in; but it’s not quite the same. I tried working on some writing yesterday to no avail; I did get a bit done but very very little. But after abandoning the attempt to write, I sat down with Chris Holm’s Child Zero, which is quite compelling and extremely well written. I got only a few chapters in before Paul got home from the gym (it’s so lovely having a husband again; it’s been like four months of having a roommate I never see), and thus had to reluctantly put the book aside.

We’re also getting some nasty weather later this afternoon–hurricane force winds are predicted, and potential tornadoes (again). The worst of the weather will be north of us–sorry, Mississippi, please stay safe, my Mississippi friends–but it’s also supposed to be at its worst right around the time I get off work and head home. There’s also potential for power outages–as always with high winds–so who knows what’s going to happen around here? I will have to figure out precisely what to do when it’s time for me to come home, I suppose. Yay? AH, well, weather has become even more threatening to us down here over the last few years, I suppose.

We also started watching season two of The Righteous Gemstones last night, which is a very underrated show–it’s quite funny, and of course, the goings-on behind the scenes at most megachurches always is interesting to me on some levels. John D. MacDonald’s One More Sunday is maybe my favorite novel about a televangelist family (MacDonald was a stunning writer, one of the best and one of my favorites, definitely an influence on my career); and of course, in one of its many iterations the Kansas book (now #shedeservedit) was about a megachurch in Kansas; which might still become a book, although probably no longer set in Kansas. Although hypocritical evangelicals has become a cliche…

But it’s also pay-the-bills day (yay?) But at least I can pay them and not worry about buying groceries and so forth, so definitely yay.

And hopefully, tonight when I get home we’ll have power so I can do some writing.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me! Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Y

You Gotta Have Love in Your Heart

A gray Monday morning and I am up early, which is terrific, serving as further confirmation that my body clock has definitely reset. Back in the olden days, before going back to work full time, I used to get up by seven every morning. It was a nice routine; I would write my blog while drinking coffee, read the news, and then start going through my email inbox. Usually by ten I would have all of that under control, and would start working around that time–writing or editing or whatever I had on the agenda at the time. Working full-time meant late nights testing in bars; the earliest I ever would get off work was eight. I kept getting up at seven despite getting home so late–I usually didn’t have to be at the office until eleven–and my mornings have always been the time I work on emails and my blog. I’m not sure exactly when that changed and i started sleeping later–but I am actually kind of glad that my body clock has reset itself again. I don’t mind going to bed at ten, or even earlier if I am falling asleep in my chair (which is what happened last night; I fell asleep in my chair around nine-ish, woke up at almost ten and moved upstairs). I worked on editing yesterday (as well as laundry, cleaning, and making groceries–and still forgot some things, despite trips to two different stores), which wore me out some, so I was trying to decide what movie to watch last night–there were several options, but none of them really appealed, and my brain was too fried from the editing to focus on reading anything, so instead I played around reading social media (the ever popular doom scroll) while I had the news on the television. (And yes, I am watching the news more than I have in quite some time. I don’t think I need to explain why, do I?)

But it’s another work-at-home Monday and I have condoms to pack and data to enter. I will be taking on the SIsyphean task of my emails as soon as I post this and have some more coffee; then I have some dishes to wash and some laundry to fold before getting into my work-at-home duties. It looks like it’s going to be gorgeous today–the temps lately have been sunny and in the high 70’s to low 80’s, which has been truly lovely–and I hope to get back to the gym this evening as well. Then I have my three in-the-office days, and I have to say getting up has been a lot easier on those days as well…which is nice. I still somehow don’t feel like I am as fully functional on those days as I could be; but that has probably more to do with having to leave the house instead of slowly rolling out the day the way I can when I am working at home. I do like my job, for the record–always have; I like helping people–even if sometimes it can be emotionally and mentally draining.

That doesn’t mean I am not looking forward to retiring, though.

The editing is going well, if a little slower than I would ordinarily prefer. I got through some chapters yesterday–ugh, the bad writing and sentence structure!–and plan to get some more done tonight. I’ve come up with a plan with how to juggle everything and still get it all done this week; it depends on how easily I am distracted by other things this week and how lazy I feel, really. It’s the lazy part that always gets me. My natural tendency is towards lazy; one of the things I always loved about John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee character was that he took his retirement “a piece at a time”–in other words, he’d take a job to make enough money so he wouldn’t need to work again for awhile. I always thought that was a smart way to approach life; why not take the time when you’re young enough to still enjoy it? I was thinking the other day–last night, actually–that if I was going to have trouble diving into another book, I should do what I did to get back into reading when the pandemic started: the Reread Project, and why not reread Travis McGee? I read the series back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and I would be curious to read the books with a modern eye toward gender and sexuality. McGee was such a male-romantic idealization of the perfect life, really–no wife, no kids, no job, no career, no responsibility, lots of pretty young things to seduce/sleep with, living on a houseboat in a marina in Fort Lauderdale (and now that I am thinking about it, isn’t it interesting that there were never any hurricanes in any of the McGee books? MacDonald certainly took on hurricanes in Condominium); the straight male fantasy life. MacDonald and McGee were a heavy influence on the Chanse MacLeod series; I’ve also read quite a bit of his stand-alones and really enjoyed them, even if they were a tad dated. MacDonald didn’t influence the Scotty books at all; I’m not sure what influenced those books in their creation of the series. I’d have to go back and look–and yes, part of the plan for writing the next Scotty book involves revisiting the series from start to finish, and possibly even creating the Scotty Bible I should have created back when I started writing the series.

Coulda woulda shoulda.

It doesn’t get you very far, does it?

LOL. Now that I’ve folded the clothes and now have some emails I need to get taken care of before starting day-job responsibilities–so yes, it’s time for the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and will see you tomorrow morning.

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

I’ve always considered myself to be a child of the seventies.

Sure, I was a child for during the sixties, but I turned nine in 1970. While I am sure that turbulent decade provided some (a lot of) influences on me, my personality, my likes/dislikes, and my future, I am equally confident that my values and thoughts and beliefs probably weren’t as shaped from that turbulent decade as they were by the 1970’s. The seventies are really the first decade for which I have a lot of recall (recently, a friend was amazed that I remembered those horrible Rag City Blues jeans for women that were, for some reason beyond my thought processes, popular in the latter part of the decade; what can I say–I do remember the decade fairly well for the most part–or at least as far as my memory can be trusted). I’ve always wanted to write books either set in the seventies completely or even partly; Where the Boys Die, my 70’s suburban Chicago novel, keeps pushing its way to the forefront of my increasingly crowded (and clouded) mind. (NO I AM WRITING CHLORINE NEXT WAIT YOUR TURN)

I remember Watergate and how the scandal grew. I remember the 1972 landslide reelection of Nixon, and the country’s negative reaction to the Ford pardon of the man who brought him to power; I also remember Jimmy Carter running for president out of seemingly nowhere and getting elected. There was The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family and Archie Bunker and Mary Richards; Sonny and Cher and Carol Burnett and Donny and Marie and the Jackson 5 and Grand Funk Railroad. Top Forty radio ruled the AM airwaves; not every car came equipped with FM capabilities, and the only way you could play your own music in your car was with an eight-track player. I started the decade reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators; by the end of the decade I was reading John D. MacDonald and Sidney Sheldon and Harold Robbins. It was a very weird decade…of odd color and fashion choices; avocado greens and browns and American cheese orange were ridiculously popular, as was shag carpeting, velour, clingy polyester shirts, corduroys, bell bottoms and slogan T-shirts. Baseball shirts and rugby sweaters also became popular later in the decade. People had feathered hair parted in the center, and there was this weird sense of, I don’t know, missing out? Movies were grittier, harsher, more realistic; actors went from the polished shine of the old Hollywood system glamour to warts-and-all realism. Television was also beginning to change but was still heavily censored. Boogie and truckin’ and shake your booty became part of the vernacular; the decade began with the break-up of the Beatles and ended with disco’s last gasps while new wave and punk and rap started their rise.

It was the decade I went through puberty and realized that I was attracted to other boys instead of girls; I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but definitely found out in the seventh grade it meant I was a faggot, fairy, queer, cocksucker, and all those other lovely words that were burned into my brain that year. It was the decade where I read Harold Robbins’ Dreams Die First (a truly execrable novel) over and over again because the main character had sex with both men and women, and if I am not mistaken, contained the first male-on-male sex scene I’d ever read (oral); it was also the decade where we moved from Chicago to the suburbs to the cornfields of Kansas and I graduated from high school. (Ironically, it was in Kansas that I discovered gay books with explicit gay sex scenes in them–the News Depot on Commercial Street not only carried The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren and her other novels, but also Gordon Merrick; and their magazine racks also had gay porn magazines–which, now that I think about it, meant there were others there in Lyon County and environs; I didn’t realize it at the time, of course.) It was when Norah Lofts’ The Lute Player made me aware that Richard the Lion-Hearted was like me, too; and Susan Howatch’s Cashelmara and Penmarric also had gay characters and plots involving them…

I’ve always thought the seventies was a much more important decade than ever given credit for; usually it is merely considered a connecting time from the 60’s to the 80’s…but almost everything that came after–socially, politically, culturally–got started in the seventies. So I was glad to see this book about that frequently dismissed time.

As I mentioned previously, the Seventies were turbulent; they were the decade that also saw the beginning of the end of the post-war economic/prosperity bubble. Gas shortages, skyrocketing inflation, and the insidious use of racism to break the Democratic coalition began–everything we find ourselves dealing with today had its roots in the Seventies–and it did seem, to those of us growing up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud, that the world had lost its mind and our country (or rather, its mythology) had lost its way. Schulman’s study of the decade, breaking down how the shifts in culture, politics, and our society began, were exploited for divisive purposes, and permanently changed attitudes moving forward was a fascinating, if chilling, read. I remember the terrorist attacks. I remember watching the Munich Olympics that ended in bloodshed on an airport runway and murdered Israeli athletes. The book brought back a lot of memories; I am not so sure I agree with all of Schulman’s assertions about the decade–there certainly wasn’t very much about the burgeoning gay rights movement, other than how it chased lesbians off into the Women’s Movement–but it was interesting to read the book and relive the decade a bit, as well as the memories it triggered.

I do highly recommend this book for people who weren’t around for the Seventies and might be wondering how the fuck did we end up in this current mess?

People on the High Line

Several years ago–I have no concept of how long ago; time and its passing literally have no meaning to me anymore–I started what I called “the Short Story Project.” I wanted to become a better short story writer; it’s a form I’ve always struggled with, and it always seemed to my hypercritical self that whenever I was successful in writing a short story, it was more of an accident than anything I had planned when I embarked on writing the story. I’ve also become a little bit easier on myself on that score–sometimes, not every idea will work as a short story, and writing isn’t something that can ever be forced without it showing to the reader–and I did have a wonderful period of productivity with short stories after setting course for the Project–which not only entailed writing them but reading as many of them as I could. After all, what better way to improve my own short story writing skills than by reading good stories? I have, over the years, collected any number of single-author collections as well as anthologies, and yet, with few notable exceptions prior to the start of the Project, had rarely ever cracked their spines. Lately, as I have struggled with time and focus while I’ve been working on this revision of the Kansas book (aka #shedeservedit) I find myself unable to focus much on reading novels; my mind inevitably wanders, or I will set it down and not get back to it for days. So, this morning I decided, before getting in my work on the book for the day, to read some short stories over my coffee this morning, and I wound up reading four of them; all of them marvelous in their own unique, distinctive ways. The stories I read this morning were, in order: “Better Days’ by Art Taylor, from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; “Mischief in Mesopotamia” by Dana Cameron, also from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; “Hop-frog” by Edgar Allan Poe; and finally, “To Build a Fire” by Jack London.

Maybe I wasn’t the only one on our stretch of the North Carolina coast who picked up the Washington Post on a regular basis, but I doubt anyone else it like I did–scanning the bylines, measuring the thickness of the paper and the heft of it, stifling the envy.

So begins Art Taylor’s “Better Days’, which won the Macavity Award for Best Short Story and was a finalist for both the Agatha and the Anthony Awards. Art is one of crime’s best short story writers (and one of my favorite people), and it’s easy to see why he has won every award under the sun for crime short stories. Art’s stories are always tightly written, with characters so real and honest and human that you can’t help but care about them, as well as having a bit of an edge to them. He manages to capture the resigned despair someone whose career path didn’t quite go the way he wanted perfectly; the former Washington Post journalist downsized and back in coastal North Carolina, working for the local paper while still thinking about his past with an uneasy regret. The story focuses on a love triangle between the main character, the local bar owner he’s been seeing, and a newly arrived tourist on a yacht with money to burn. This story tightly plotted, flows perfectly, and the characters are people I wouldn’t mind spending some more time with. In some ways it kind of reminded me of John D. Macdonald; maybe it’s the sea and boats and so forth that put me in mind of Travis McGee. Highly recommended.

I sat across from a row of decapitated kings, gods, and heroes waiting for them to speak to me. I didn’t know a word of their language, and they’d been dead–their monuments erected, sanctified, and decaying–long before anyone speaking my language was born. Still, I waited, if not as patiently as they did.

That’s the opening paragraph of Dana Cameron’s “Mischief in Mesopotamia,” originally published in the November 2012 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and it went on to win both the Agatha and Anthony awards for Best Short Story the following year. (I initially met Dana the weekend she won the Agatha; she’s been a constant source of joy for me ever since.) The story features her series character Emma Fielding, and reading the story is my first encounter with her–and now I am going to have to go back and read the entire series of novels with Emma (you may also know her from the television films made from some of the books in the series, with Melrose Place alumnus Courtney Thorne-Smith playing Emma). Set on a tour of museums and archaeological sites in southeast Turkey, Emma and her group happen to be on-site when a museum robbery occurs–and Emma solves the crime through her keen observations of her fellow tour group members. The voice is delightful, as is Emma–there’s a hint of my fiction goddess Amelia Peabody about her–and the story is enormously satisfying.

I never knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the King was. He seemed to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kin, and to tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. Thus it happened that his seven ministers were all noted for their accomplishments as jokers. They all took after the king, too, in being large, corpulent, oily men, as well as inimitable jokers. Whether people from fat by joking, or whether there is something in fat itself which predisposes to a joke, I have never been quite able to determine; but certain it is that a lean doer us a rare Avis in terris.

Yes, that first paragraph made me squirm a bit as I started reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop-frog,” which I suppose can be held up as an example of how things don’t age well (the notion that overweight people are jolly, as evidenced here). The story itself, which is about a court jester who is also a little person (“dwarf”) and crippled at a royal court, mocked and laughed at and the butt of the jokes of the King and his advisors, along with another female who is also there for their entertainment–whom Hop-frog appears to love, eventually reaches his own breaking point when they mock him one time too many and when the female begs them to stop, the King throws wine in her face and humiliates her. There is a costume ball coming up, and Hop-frog chooses this for his revenge, convincing them all to dress up as “ourang-outangs”, which will require covering themselves with tar and pitch and fake fur….and they waltz right into his punishment, as they are set aflame and are burned alive. This is based in actual history–Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror details the “the dance of the burning fools,” where King Charles VI of France and some of his buddies costumed themselves in such a manner with the same outcome–some of them caught fire and were burned to death, although the King was not one of the victims. When I was rereading that book in the early pandemic days, I came across this true story and thought it might make for an interesting short story; doing further research, I discovered that Poe had written a story based on this actual event, and bookmarked it to read later. As with everything classic, my education in Poe is limited; but all the earmarks of a Poe’s story’s justice are here: justice is meted out to the foolish king and his cruel advisers…but it’s not one of his better efforts, which is why, undoubtedly, it’s not as well known.

Day had dawned cold and gray when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail. He climbed the high earth-bank where a little-traveled trail led east through the pine forest. It was a high ban, and he paused to breathe at the top. He excused the act to himself by looking at his watch. It was nine o’clock in the morning. There was no sun or promise of sun, although there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day. However, there seemed to be an indescribable darkness over the face of things. That was because the sun was absent from the sky. This fact did not worry the man. He was not alarmed by the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun.

I originally read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” in high school. It was assigned for us to read when we were studying short stories and fiction; it was assigned as an example of the theme “man v. nature.” I’ve never forgotten the story–I loathe the cold, as Constant Reader is aware, and London does an amazing job of getting that frigid climate across to the reader. The man is never given a name–his name doesn’t matter–and neither does the wolf-dog by his side have a name; their names don’t matter. This story is about human hubris–he isn’t worried about the cold, despite being warned about it, and he wants to get back to his camp. His job was to go upstream and see if its possible for logs to be floated downstream when the temperature is warmer and the waters of streams and rivers and creeks not frozen solid. His mission accomplished, he is heading back to his actual camp, with some food stored under his shirt next to his body and a pack of matches in case he needs to start a fire. The dread in this story builds slowly and smoothly as he begins to suspect he made an error in not respecting the cold for its ability to kill him; occasionally London goes into the perspective of the animal who is also beginning to sense the man–food and fire provider, nothing more–is out of his depth. Eventually he succumbs to the cold, after a series of misadventures that come about because he isn’t paying enough attention and is careless. Whether that is because the cold has affected his ability to think and reason clearly is never part of the story or his own consideration. Even now, after all these years, the story has the ability to make me wince and shiver and think yikes, there’s no fucking way I’d ever go outside when it was 75 degrees below zero, let alone make a trip of many miles through wilderness on foot.

And on that note, now I am finished with my morning and its back to the spice mines with me,

Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.

One of the Crowd

And it’s now the fifth of July, and so far–at least for me–the second half of this annus horribilis is off to an okay start. Yesterday was oddly not humid or hot; there wasn’t much direct sunlight and even by noon I hadn’t been forced to turn on the portable Arctic Air coolers that have so far made life in the kitchen/office bearable; I remain, as ever, buried and behind in all of my work, which is to be expected, of course–par for it, actually. I am always behind and scrambling to catch up, and since my personality is this peculiar combination of Type A mixed in with almost chronic laziness, this will most likely always be my state of being.

The sun is out, however, this morning, and while it remains cool here in the Lost Apartment, there’s no telling how hot it perhaps might get in here later this afternoon. I accomplished very little yesterday, truth be told; I started working on “You Won’t See Me” and didn’t get very far, because it was wandering off into a different direction than where it was originally intended to go–it wasn’t until I quit writing in disgust and adjourned to my easy chair that I realized (or remembered)where I’d wanted to go with the story in the first place, so I made some notes and went back to reading Cottonmouths. Later we streamed a lot more of The Club, which has a rather lengthy first season–it’s been a while since I’ve seen a season of anything recent that runs for over twenty episodes–and an awful lot has happened. We’re finally into the mid-teens, and halfway finished with the show, which we are still enjoying. And Cottonmouths remains quite delightful.

I refuse to allow myself to give into despair this fair morning over what I wasn’t able to get accomplished over the last two days. This morning I feel, for want of better terms, not only vivacious but alive and rested. The clouds of exhaustion that have made my thinking not as clear have lifted, or so it seems at this very moment, and we shall see how this day turns out, won’t we? I hope to get quite a bit accomplished today–we have the clinic open the next two days–and I have been sleeping well lately. I’m actually feeling close to normal for the first time in months, and while mentioning it also has me concerned that I might be jinxing it in some way, it’s actually been quite lovely.

It is very difficult to not fall into the ease of despair with the news every day–hell, every day for the last few years, quite frankly. The pandemic is raging out of control and might not get better for a while; Florida, for example, has reported more new cases over the last eight days than Louisiana has had since it first arrived here (um, where are all those people claiming it was irresponsible for us to have Carnival NOW? Cavorting on the beaches in Florida?), and as the crisis seems to continue to deepen rather than get better, the return to normality everyone seems to want gets pushed further and further back because of selfishness, frankly. As I joked to Paul yesterday about not getting much writing done yesterday, “What’s the point of writing anything new when who knows if there will even be a publishing industry next year?”

I’ve not, to be honest, thought much about my writing career this year, or at least since March. It was lovely being nominated for a Lambda Award–it’s been years since the last time–but I also knew once I saw Michael Nava’s name on the short-list I didn’t have a prayer of winning. But the nominations are always nice. I have thought about writing more Scotty books–I did leave their personal story on a cliffhanger in Royal Street Reveillon, after all–but there are two manuscripts in the hopper I need to finish first, and I want to work on Chlorine next. I need to get this Secret Project finished and out of my hair in order to get back to the two manuscripts–I’ve solved the issues with Bury Me in Shadows over the course of the pandemic–and I’ve also solved the plot issues with the Kansas book while I’ve essentially been too distracted and too exhausted and too ill to actually do any actual writing. My goal for this week–and yes, the week, not today–is to get that proposal finished; get a couple more of these stories under control and/or closer to finished; and if I have a highly productive week, to take next weekend off again to rest and recharge while trying to make some progress in the TBR pile. I want to reread another Perry Mason novel–I have The Case of the Calendar Girl in a hardcover I found in a used bookstore sometime during my travels over the past few years, and watching the new HBO Perry Mason has made me want to reconnect with the original character again–and I also want to get back into reading through both the John D. MacDonald and Ross MacDonald and Margaret Millar canons; which will help me get into a place where I will be able to get Chlorine written sooner rather than later. I also have some Dorothy B. Hughes novels on hand I’ve not read as well…and of course, there’s the Diversity Project to get back to at some point, in addition to the Short Story Project. I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection on its way, as well as the latest Lawrence Block anthology, which I think is called In the Darkling Halls of Ivy (I could be wrong but it’s something like that), and of course, I still have his previous anthology on my side table, untouched.

So much to read, so much to watch, so little free time in which to do it all–and that includes, I might add, so little time to write everything I want to write before I die.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–I certainly hope that I do.

Chiseled in Stone

Sunday! It’s raining and gray outside this morning; I’m not sure (because I haven’t looked) what that means for today’s parades (Femme Fatale, Carrollton, and King Arthur–which is over fifty floats and loaded down with gay men, most of whom I know so I always get buried with beads), but I will take a look later. This morning i need to get some work done, and I need to make it to the gym for the start of week three of my workouts–which means today is three sets rather than two of everything. However, I decided it only made sense to cut the treadmill/cardio part of my workouts during parade season; it only makes sense, you know–as I am doing a lot of standing and jumping and walking during the parades. We only went to the night parades yesterday–Sparta and Pygmalion–because Paul was sleeping during the day (it’s festival crunch time, and he stays up really late working) and yes, I could have gone by myself–but it’s not as much fun without him. If the parades are–heaven forbid–rained out, then I will have a lot of free time to get things done, rather than trying to get them done before and after the parades.

Instead of parades yesterday afternoon, I spent most of the day writing some and finishing rereading Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are the Children? It really is a hard book to put down, which was, of course, Mrs. Clark’s biggest strength as a writer–that, and her ability to tap into women’s biggest fears. I’m writing a rather lengthy post about the book already–so I won’t discuss it too much here. And if the parades are cancelled, I’ll probably get that finished today.

So, I intend to spend this morning prepping for the gym and answering emails, then when I get home from the gym I’ll get cleaned up and write some before the parades get here–if they are, indeed, coming; they might just be delayed. There aren’t any evening parades today, so of course they can all have their scheduled departures pushed back; they may also abandon the marching bands and walking crews to roll in the rain. I don’t know if we have the physical stamina to stand in the rain for four hours–neither one of us can risk getting sick at this point–but then again, there are overhanging balconies at the corner, so who knows? I guess I’ll judge how bad the weather is when I am walking to the gym this morning.

I also now have to make the all-important decision on what to read next. I think I’m going to take a break from books that I have to read and read something just for the fun of it, and I think I’m going to choose a cozy by a writer I’ve not read before. When I said I wanted to diversify my reading–and started, last year, doing so by reading more authors of color–I didn’t just mean reading books by authors marginalized by race or sexuality; I also meant books outside of what I generally read. I don’t read a lot of cozies, and I’m not exactly sure why that is; I’ve read Donna Andrews, Elaine Viets, Leslie Budewitz and others, but I am now questioning whether or not those actually qualified as cozies? I generally get cozies in the gift bags given out at conferences, and I do buy them from time to time–I support women writers, and I do feel like cozies are treated as somewhat less than by the crime  genre in general–and I also feel like it’s time to change that perception, and give cozies their due. I have an interesting looking one on hand from Ali Brandon, Double Booked for Murder, and I think that’s what I am going to read next. My cozy reading is woefully less than what it should be, and I want to start making up for that lost time. After that, I’ll probably move on back to the books I need to read and one of my reading projects, whether it’s the Reread Project or the Diversity Project (I am thinking Mary Stewart’s The Moonspinners is way overdue for a reread), or even, perhaps, some Cornell Woolrich.

Woolrich is one of those pulpy writers from the mid-twentieth century who wrote a lot of books and short stories, but was also a miserable alcoholic and a gay man who lived with his mother most of his life. He wrote the story Hitchcock adapted as Rear Window, and wrote several other important noir-esque pulpy novels. I had started reading The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but got sidetracked by something else–probably reading for an award–and never got back to it, which is a shame; I greatly enjoyed it, and I find Woolrich to be an interesting character. I wish I had the time and the energy and the wherewithal to devote more to writing nonfiction; I think a biography of Woolrich would make for interesting reading (I also have always wanted to do one of John D. MacDonald, but again–would I ever have the time to read his–or Woolrich’s, for that matter–entire canon? Not entirely likely; maybe once I’ve retired from the day job and have days to fill with writing and reading and research); I am also curious because it seems most writers from that time period–including Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald–all had drinking problems; as did Woolrich. I’m not surprised a gay man living in those times lapsed into alcoholism–it’s a wonder more gay men of my generation don’t have lingering addiction problems.

I’m still dealing with my creative ADD problem, alas; being aware that it’s going on and happening doesn’t make it easier to control. I just realized yesterday–as I was writing notes in my journal about another short story idea (“Die a Little Death”) that I’d also completely forgotten about “Never Kiss a Stranger”; which is still yet another long story (novella?) I am in process with, along with “Festival of the Redeemer,” and still another I’ve not pulled out and worked on in over a year. It’s absolutely insane how many works I currently have in some kind of progress, which means ninety-five percent of them will most likely never be finished or see print. (Well over a hundred short stories or novellas; I have at least four novel manuscripts in some sort of progress; and fragments of at least five other novels–and none of this is counting essays in progress, either…yeah, it’s unlikely that I will ever finish all of this. And still I persist. Just like I will never read all the novels I want to read, I will never finish writing everything I want to write. Sigh.)

All right, I’m going to go read for a little while before I brave the rain to go to the gym. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

1525612_10152176992191473_1390838301_n

All the Gold in California

I often talk about how my education in the so-called “classics” is somewhat lacking; this is also true, not just of the great canon of literary fiction, but within my own genre as well (which is why I never pose as an expert on crime fiction; I am not one). I had never read Ross MacDonald–I was aware of him, and Lew Archer–but never had any real desire to read him until I was on a panel with Christopher Rice, who mentioned MacDonald as one of his favorite writers and an inspiration. Hmmm, I thought, perhaps I should give MacDonald a try.

So, in the years following that panel, I started reading the Archer novels, and enjoyed them tremendously. I’ve not read all of them, and I’ve not read any of his stand-alones…but what I liked the most about them was the style; how MacDonald put words and sentences together to create not only character, but mood and a kind of dark, noir-ish hard-boiled sensibility that I really admired. Early in my writing career, I patterned Chanse–both character and series–after John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series; later, after I started reading Ross MacDonald, I tried to see if I could create my own version of that sensibility and writing style; influenced by both MacDonalds but trying to create my own version, if that makes any kind of sense. I’d say Murder in the Irish Channel came the closest of any of the books to perfecting that style; I don’t know if Murder in the Arts District  replicated the feat (which means I am going to have to reread it, even if cursorily, damn it).

There’s nothing more tedious than rereading your own work.

But I recently decided it was past time to give one of Ross MacDonald’s stand-alones a shot, and chose The Ferguson Affair.

download

The case began quietly, on the women’s floor of the county jail. I was there to interview a client, a young nurse named Ella Barker who had been arrested on a stolen-property charge. Specifically, she had sold a diamond ring which was part of the loot in a recent burglary; the secondhand dealer who bought it from her reported the transaction to the police.

Our interview started out inauspiciously. “Why you?” she wanted to know. “I thought people in trouble had a right to choose their own lawyer. Especially when they’re innocent, like me.”

“Innocence or guilt has nothing to do with it, Miss Barker. The judges keep an alphabetical list of all the attorneys in town. We take turns representing defendants without funds. My name happened to be next on the list.”

“What did you say your name was?”

“Gunnarson. William Gunnarson.”

“It’s a funny name,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

Reading books written in the past–no matter how far back–can often be jarring. One has to take into consideration the context of the time in which the book was written; The Ferguson Affair, for example, was published originally in 1960, and if you don’t think the world and society and culture have changed dramatically in the time since the final full year of the Eisenhower administration, you might want to think again. The book was published the year before I was born, so technically the book is only slighter older than I am, and it came out in a world without color television, cable, cell phones, etc. Technology had advanced so far in those fifty-nine years it might as well have been published a hundred years ago.

The Ferguson Affair was published in the midst of the period when he was producing the Lew Archer novels, and a lot of the Archer hallmarks also appear in this book; a complicated, winding plot that begins as something very small–in this case, the arrest of Ella Barker for pawning stolen property–and then continues, over the course of the investigation, to expand outwards into something much bigger, most dastardly, and more deadly. William Gunnarson, the main character of the book, is an attorney in a small California city named Buenavista, reminiscent of the town of Santa Teresa where some of the Archer books are set (and was later borrowed by Sue Grafton for her Kinsey Millhone books in a homage to MacDonald). Gunnarson is married and his wife is nine months pregnant and ready to give birth at any moment; more on that later. He is interviewing his client when word comes that someone had tried to kill the pawnshop owner who turned her in; Gunnarson is allowed to ride along to the pawnshop, which is on Pelly Street–clearly the wrong side of the tracks, and the Latin side of town. Ella was given the diamond ring she pawned for her engagement to Larry Gaines, the lifeguard at the fancy Foothill Club (the Buenavista country club), after discovering he was stepping out on her with retired screen star Holly May. The ring was loot from a robbery; the police suspect Ella knows more about the gang of robbers than she is letting on–because the victims of the robbery have all been patients at the hospital where she works as a nurse.

The book proceeds from there, with twists and turns involving kidnapping and extortion, murder and robbery; and while it is a fun ride as all MacDonald novels are, there is definitely some 1960’s era um, that’s a bit racist stuff when it comes to the Latinx people he comes into contact with over the course of the story.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration how Gunnarson treats his pregnant wife, Sally. Nine months pregnant and about to give birth at any given moment, he can’t be bothered to call her to tell her he’s coming home late for dinner which she is preparing. He never checks in on her to see if she’s okay; and in fact, he’s not around when she finally does go into labor, and someone else has to make sure she gets to the hospital in time for the birth. There’s none of the modern sentimentality about pregnancy and childbirth; he actually teases and mocks her about being so pregnant during the brief time he gives her any attention at all.  I’m not really sure why it was necessary for her to be pregnant, to be honest; it bore no relation to the story in any way, and all it did was make Gunnarson seem, to my modern eyes, like an asshole.

It did occur to me that this story could have just as easily been an Archer novel/story; only set in the past, to give a key insight into who Archer was as a character, and how he developed. I could totally see this being Archer’s marriage, and Archer being the kind of husband who would always put his wife and family last; as was expected of men at the time, and the wife getting tired of it and divorcing him. (I am not an Archer expert; I’ve read some of the books, not all, and while I do enjoy them when I do read them, I don’t have details memorized. I do seem to recall that Archer had been married and divorced; I think his ex-wife is mentioned a few times…but like I said, this works as an early Archer story, but back then it wasn’t common for series books to be written out of order; maybe that was why this wound up not being an Archer? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting theory.)

Reading the book, though, made me think more about writing another Chanse novel, which I think may happen at some point in the next few years. I’d recommend it to you if you’re a MacDonald fan and want to achieve completion with his works; it’s probably not the best place to start with MacDonald if you haven’t read him before.

When Smokey Sings

And just like that, the vacation is over and it’s back to work with me.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But in all honesty, it feels like I haven’t set foot in the office for months. It also feels like I haven’t written anything in months, either.

But let’s face it, and be honest with myself: yesterday was also the first time I have felt human,  or like myself, in weeks. I managed to get good sleep almost every day for the last five or six days; it’s amazing what a difference good sleep can make in one;’s day to day life. Even this morning, despite being untimely ripped from my bed–I’m not sleepy or tired; just not fully awake yet, and the coffee–with an assist from a shower–will change that all fairly rapidly.

I started –and finished–Richard Stark’s The Hunter yesterday, and I’m not quite sure how I felt about it. I thought it was written very well–the pacing was particularly good–but…it’s a 1962 novel, and that shows with misogyny and a couple of homophobic slurs, as well as some seriously questionable sexualization. But it’s also a pulp novel from the early 1960’s; Stark was a pseudonym for Donald Westlake, and it read very quickly and very fast….the main character, Parker, is described as an anti-hero; I’d say he’s more of a sociopath than anything else, really, although I do suppose to that does make him a bit of anti-hero….I am still thinking about the book, and will write more about it at another time, most likely. After I finished reading it, I moved on to The Ferguson Affair by Ross Macdonald. I don’t think I’ve read it before–to date, to the best of my knowledge I’ve not read any of Macdonald’s non-Archer novels, and that very much is what this one is; but it’s got Macdonald’s trademark writing style, and I am enjoying it. I think the Parker novel inevitably led to the Macdonald, really–there were some things about Parker that reminded me of both Macdonalds, Ross and John D.; I actually was looking for a non-McGee novel of John D. MacDonald’s to read, and finally decided on the Ross Macdonald The Ferguson Affair. As I read the book, it reminds me of something I’ve read before–perhaps not another Macdonald novel, but perhaps one of the Lew Archer short stories I read in The Archer Files last year when I was doing the Short Story Project.

I also had to do the editorial notes on my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” which is appearing in the anthology The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes of Three Rooms Press–they also published Florida Happens last year–and got that turned in; I also saw the cover, which was shared on Facebook. I do like this story that I wrote; it wasn’t one of the easier ones to do. Primarily the reason it took me so long–other than I was writing Bury Me in Shadows at the same time–was because it was so difficult to come up with an idea for what I was going to write. Ordinarily I like writing stories to order–trying to come up with a story that fits a theme (and I usually will push those limits) is always a fun challenge; this one was a bit more difficult, and I am really happy with what I finally managed to come up with. I did worry, as the deadline loomed, that the story wasn’t going to come together properly; I always have that fear, it’s the flip side (or a primary symptom) of Imposter Syndrome. But it’s finished, the editor liked it, and I got my corrections done….now I just have to figure out how to write this Sherlock Holmes pastiche I agreed to write. I already have the idea, and how I want to do it, and where it’s set and the title, which I love….I just now have to figure out the story itself.

I also figured out how to revise two short stories I’ve been unable to get; one was simply because in order for the story’s title to work, one of the characters had to be a moron; and the other because it was a little too, shall we say, spot on? It’s also a great title, and I think it’s a great story; I just have to revise it and change some of the things in it before I make one last try to get it published somewhere.

It’s actually been a pretty good year, career-wise, for me so far….and with only two months left to go–what can I accomplish in the meantime?

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

12341504_980324262028594_7396511433094616847_n

Carrie

Saturday morning and yet another, amazing night’s sleep. I didn’t get up until ten this morning! That’s like two days in a row, and I could have easily stayed in bed had I not realized that I will eventually have to start getting up early again and going to work next week. Tomorrow I’m going to set my alarm and get up around eight or nine, just to get back into the habit.

I’ve also reached the point where I am no longer sad not to be at Bouchercon this weekend anymore. I think I just finally got numb, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started being happy for my friends and glad they’re having a great time over there. After all, there’s no point in being sad, really–it doesn’t make anything better, does it?–and there’s really no sense in being sad or upset over things you have no control over. Those are the things you just have to accept.

You don’t have to like them, though.

Last night we binged the rest of the available episodes of Castle Rock, and Lizzy Kaplan is just killing it as Annie Wilkes. She should at least get an Emmy nod for the performance; I won’t go out on a limb and say she should win since there are so many incredible television shows and performances out there now, between all the streaming services and so forth. This truly is an extraordinary time for television shows. I love that the writers have dragged Jerusalem’s Lot and the Marsten House into this season; there’s something strange going on in the basement of the Marsten House but we aren’t really sure what it is yet…this season is making me want to revisit Stephen King’s work, which is precisely what I don’t need to do; my TBR pile is massive enough as it is without going back and rereading some of my favorite Stephen Kings. Over the last year or so I’ve reread Pet Sematary, The Shining, and ‘salem’s Lot as it is; I’d love to reread Firestarter before reading The Institute–which I think is going to be my Thanksgiving week treat.

I think my next read–after a careful examination of my bookshelves, is going to be Richard Stark’s The Hunter. Stark of course is one of Donald Westlake’s pseudonyms, and my education in Westlake (and Lawrence Block, while we’re at it) is sadly lacking. I also never read the Ed McBain novels (but I did read Evan Hunter when I was in my twenties). As I said, my education is classic crime writers of the 20th century has been sadly neglected; and I’d also like to read Ross Macdonald’s stand alones, and I’d love to immerse myself in a reread of the John D. Macdonald’s Travis McGee novels (and finish reading through his stand alones as well). I also need to finish the canons of Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy B. Hughes.

And of course, there are all those wonderful writers of color I need to read. And queer crime writers. And…

Heavy sigh.

I did manage to finish reading  Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia yesterday, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a very different approach to a vampire novel, and while I don’t know that I would necessarily classify it as a horror novel–not all vampire novels are horror novels–it really is quite good. It’s more suspenseful and, much as I hate to say it, it’s almost closer to a crime/suspense novel with paranormal elements than it is a horror novel. I do highly recommend it–I’ll write an entry about it at some point this weekend, perhaps even later today–and it’s precisely the kind of novel that is needed to reinvigorate the horror genre. I’ve been saying for quite some time that it’s the so-called minority writers (writers of color, queer writers) who are currently injecting new blood into, and revitalizing the crime genre–I would say that’s also the case with horror. The problem with genre fiction is that it tends to stagnate periodically and become repetitive and somewhat stale, until something comes along, shakes it up, and turns it upside down. The rise of the hardboiled female private eye novel in the 1980’s was the kick in the pants crime needed to breathe new life into a genre that was getting a bit stale; I think it’s the marginalized writers who are doing it now.

Look at me, generalizing about horror–a genre I am hardly expert in. As I always say, I’m just a fan with horror.

But I am hardly an expert in crime fiction, either. There are positively libraries of things I don’t know about crime fiction.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day. Constant Reader.

11855786_931958863531801_5199844293871316406_n